I find myself becoming increasingly disgusted by a few of the obviously bad blatant things that are happening in Washington’s State-legal Cannabis industry under the watchful eye of it’s Regulators, Legislators and participants.
Today, I am going to revisit one of these obviously bad blatant things— Laboratory Friendliness and Truthiness
Friendliness and Truthiness by our Labs is being allowed to run unchecked by our Regulators and their tax, fee, and fine-collecting enforcement division.
For background, see the series of articles I published on HI-Blog in late 2015. In that series of 6 articles, I identified a segment of 5 Industry-Friendly labs that were either reporting “higher-than-normal-or-expected” potency values or/and were not reporting any (or hardly any) failed samples while performing the mandated Quality Assurance tests.
I also identified 5 labs that seemed to be making a successful effort at producing reasonable, repeatable, believable results (I will refer to these labs as “Objective” in today’s posting). These labs tended to report Cannabinoid potency levels at lower levels than those being reported by “The Friendlies” and/or tended to report Quality Assurance failures at higher rates (Objective Labs are not as Friendly to short-sighted wholesalers, but are much more Friendly to the consumers and patients depending upon honest, accurate quality and potency information).
4 additional labs that were in business at the time had performed too few tests for me to assign them confidently to either the Friendly or Objective Lab Segments. I’ll refer to these Labs as “thin data” today.
After publishing the Lab Friendliness series, I noticed almost immediate declines in the average levels of reported potency and increases in the number of samples being reported as having failed Quality Assurance testing.
That made me feel good. What did not make me feel good was then seeing the LCB include representatives of two of the Friendly labs on their Lab Quality Assurance Work Group.
The data reported by such labs had shown signs of anything but Assured Quality. The market shares that such labs have been able to attain suggest the commercial effectiveness of being Friendly. The apparent absence of Regulatory oversight by the WSLCB on this issue simply rounds out the Trifecta and results in what I am about to show you (all while the LCB seeks blanket immunity from Prosecution for the way in which they have failed to do their jobs regulating and allocating and enforcing vis a vis State-Legal Cannabis).
Last Spring, I contacted LCB Staff (the Head of the Marijuana Examiner Program) regarding the inclusion of labs 0003 and 0009 on the QA Assurance Work Group. I was specific and suggested during our call that the input of these two labs should be taken with a very large grain of salt and with full awareness that the data they were reporting suggested that their input would be sullied — either from incompetence and/or from self-interested dishonesty. I also attempted to ring a bell of alarm that the dramatic increases in market share of Friendly labs, if allowed to continue unabated, could reasonably be expected to harm and/or kill people.
The Head Examiner strongly disagreed with my assertion regarding the potential for deaths and accused me of using hyperbole. I attempted to explain why continued inflation of reported potency and continued passing of substandard (and, occasionally, dangerous) product would be expected to cause harm– PARTICULARLY IN PATIENTS WITH SPECIFIC ISSUES (compromised immune function and compromised respiratory function being the two I believe I called out). We agreed to disagree, I suppose. I was hopeful that I may have at least piqued the interest of the Examiner’s Project to Examine the situation and then to Examine the data in front of them and, perhaps, Examine the choice to steer some enforcement efforts toward the problem.
Over the next few months, I continued to follow changes in what the Labs were reporting. In summary, the “Friendlies” scuttled from their previous reporting patterns like rats fleeing a sinking ship of dishonesty in the face of increased media interest in the issue and the potential of increased oversight signaled by the rat-infested Quality Assurance Workgroup constituted by the WSLCB.
More product began to fail QA tests (implying that fewer patients and other consumers were likely to be harmed and/or to die from mis-labelled product) and overall levels of potency began to fall. Things were looking good. Maybe my unpaid work would come to help the imbibers of State-legal Cannabis in Washington get safe and accurately-labelled products, after all.
I was beginning to feel better about Lab stuff until I looked at the data from April, where Potency once again began to increase. The increase was even more evident in the May data and a quick examination led to the realization that a single lab was responsible for the bulk of the increase. This lab (lab 0015) was reporting much higher Cannabinoid potency levels than their peers while at the same time enjoying a dramatic increase in the share of the testing market that they were now performing.
I am not inclined to narc. The practice has always struck me as distasteful and, in many ways, wrong. In spite of this, my concerns regarding the emergence of a new player vying for the “Friendly Crown” shared by the 4 Friendly labs still servicing Washington’s market took precedence. Between this new upstart and the established “Friendlies”, the vast majority (well over 80%) of the product reaching consumers in Washington is tainted by Friendliness. Not that product tested by these labs is necessarily unsafe or non-potent — it is, however, product whose reported test results are reasonably viewable as being less trustworthy. Product tested by the Objective Labs is also not necessarily safe/unsafe or potent/non-potent. It is, however, product whose label can, in my opinion, be trusted.
In that context, I met with a couple of LCB staff (The Head of the Marijuana Examiner Program and one of his Examiners) in August in order to bring to their attention data from the first 5 months of the year that showed lab 0015 (using LCB-speak) appeared to be repeating the pattern observed in many of the “Friendly labs” I described last year in the HI-Blog lab series.
Specifically, I shared with them evidence clearly displaying that lab 0015 was reporting potency at levels not seen since just before lab 0007 was given a multi-month suspension for running afoul of the WSLCB (by way of reference and/or coincidence, lab 0007 had the highest Friendliness score of all the labs that I examined).
Part of the disgust I feel now is that I see no evidence that the WSLCB has done anything to address this issue in the 7+ months since I brought it to their attention. I narced to them because I saw a market being allowed to develop in a way that put consumers at risk. I seem to have done so without impact. I guess that’ll teach me to narc.
It seems apparent from the following graphs that the LCB had better things to do with their time over the past few months than to provide effective oversight of lab incompetence and/or misbehavior. Why keep consumers safe and reinforce one of the few advantages held by State-Legal Cannabis over the other stuff available in Washington, after all?
Perhaps the WSLCB and it’s agents are too busy ensuring that taxes, fees and fines are collected fully and in a timely manner?
Perhaps their efforts to educate Washington’s children about the falsehood that Cannabis, unlike alcohol or nicotine, is so dangerous that a blood-soaked hand should emblazon it’s products have exhausted their operational capacity? It is well known that holding false opinions and (with knowledge of their lack of veracity) teaching them as truth is more difficult than is actually teaching about true things. Lying is exhausting. Lying to children is even more so.
Perhaps it is the WSLCB’s conspiracy with the Tribes to create an advantaged sub-market within Washington or maybe even their efforts to co-opt our Legislators to pass laws granting immunity to themselves and to their Staff for their misdeeds rolling out our State-legal Cannabis market and effectively destroying our highly-functioning Medical one, that has distracted them from keeping consumers safe?
They’ve heard lots of allegations (and seen some evidence thereof, I’d imagine) of wrong-doings by their staff — particularly relating to the allocation of licenses and to misleading communications relating to licensure for all applicants. Granting blanket immunity to them is one way to fix the problem, it would seem. It must be exhausting to so circumvent propriety. I hope the WSLCB at least points SOME of their investigative might into the recent personal finances of their Licensing Staff and of those who manage (and direct) them.
Whatever the reason, the WSLCB has screwed the pooch on this one. They have been asleep at the wheel and should, perhaps, have their breaths checked and analyzed.
Their ineffectiveness made me turn myself into a narc and they continue to allow poor lab practices (and/or a lack of ethics and compassion on the part of lab practitioners) to put consumers of State-legal Cannabis in Washington at immediate risk of harm.
Russ Hauge (newly re-instated Board Member) responded to a recent verbal accusation regarding Staff misconduct with a request for evidence to the accuser. Not a bad approach to take …. if you actually act productively on such information when it is supplied.
Mr. Hauge (et al.) Here is some evidence of misconduct by one lab in particular (the Red line), a group of labs in general (the Orange line) and a point of reference regarding what “GOOD” or “THE TRUTH” or “PRAGUE LAB RESULTS” should be (the Green line). Do with it what you will. This is the last pro bono work I do for your organization. Please do something constructive with it that moves the Regulation of Washington’s State-Legal Cannabis Market closer to the values/goals/ideals of the WSLCB.
The four charts below show monthly data for the 16-month period spanning Sept., 2015 through Dec., 2016. They correspond to all tests performed on FLOWER lots that remain in my database after clear errors (think percentages > 100) have been removed. 3 of the charts break down POTENCY, Quality Assurance Testing, and Share of the Testing Market data for 5 groups of Labs (FRIENDLY, NEW, lAB 0015, OBJECTIVE, and “thin data’).
While interpreting the charts, remember that my assessment of Friendliness was based on data from June, July and August of 2015. The HI-Blog series on Lab Truthiness was published between late November and December of 2015. The media picked up on the issue in January and February, and by March/April, a Lab Quality Assurance Work Group had been created by the LCB. Donald Trump was not yet President of our United States during any of these time periods, but the Russians were actively engaging with the process of Presidential selection.
The first chart shows Potency (THCmax) results. Notice lab 0015 represented by the thick Red Line. Reaching for the stars … they want that Friendliness Crown, they sure do. Notice also the Rats Fleeing the Sinking Ship in the Orange line. Bummer that someone decided to “Out” their behavior. Gotta change protocols. Gotta actually do lab work. Friggin’ bloggers. The Green line shows what I believe should serve as Washington’s index of what is, actually, the TRUTH.
The second chart shows OVERALL levels of failure for lab QA tests on Flower (the percentage of lots failing at least one of the required QA elements). Notice that failure rates started going up after folks got sensitive to Patient-killing behavior on the part of the Labs.
The third chart shows levels of QA failure for Flower broken out by the same Lab segments as on the Potency chart. It looks as if lab 0015 really paid attention to what the FRIENDLY labs were doing in the old days. It is almost hard to see that thick Red line so low on the ordinate (and look at how the Orange — Rats fleeing the sinking ship – line is beginning to come into line with a more realistic view of what bad/inadequate/poisonous product truly is. They are still failing fewer lots than the OBJECTIVE labs, however (once Friendly, always Friendly perhaps … I guess most would agree that killing fewer people is better than killing more people). I tend to cut the NEW labs some slack, as they are dialing in their procedures and processes and reagents and competitive knowledge. I cut lab 0015 no such slack.
The final chart today shows the share of Flower testing enjoyed by each of these groups. Add up the totals for the Orange and Red lines to get an idea of the degree to which FRIENDLINESS permeates the product available on the shelves of Washington’s State-Legal Access Points today.
It would appear that bad lab practices (and/or perhaps bad labs putting consumers and patients and decency and honesty and all that is good at risk –possibly in an attempt to gain some additional fees from some additional tests) pay well in the market as it is currently managed by the WSLCB and by their lab oversight contractors RJ Lee. Such practices appear to pay very well. One wonders if someone at the LCB is getting a cut? (I have no evidence of this, Mr. Hauge …. I lack the power of subpoena).
I would love to hear your opinions and interpretations regarding these data. I think the case is compelling that something is not right (and that my original segmentation of the labs continues to show merit over a year after original publication). I would love to hear what you have to say (pro or con).
I’d also love to hear if you believe that the Lab QA Rules that are currently under their second CR-102 should be passed, given the Friendliness that permeated their creation?
One good thing in the proposed rules is the existence of proposed language in WAC 314-55-1035 regarding Laboratory certification—Suspension and revocation. I personally think the language should be strengthened a bit —- but if the LCB staff (including the dishonest self-serving ones I assume to be in the minority) should merit blanket immunity, maybe the Friendly labs should, as well.
After all, if their behavior is actually harming and/or killing people, it would only be Cannabis-imbibers that are being harmed and/or killed…. and where is the harm in that?.
Author’s Note on Unblinding the Labs (and the labs):
For the record, the labs that I originally categorized as Friendly and, hence, the labs whose reported results might well have been putting consumer/patient lives at risk, were labs 0003, 0005, 0007, 0009, and 0012, using the LCB nomenclature. lab 0005 is no longer in business in Washington.
Labs 0002, 0004, 0008, 0010, 0014 are the Labs that I found to be PRAGUE (what I am calling “OBJECTIVE” today and what I described originally as being PRAGUE – or Proficient, Reproducible, Accurate, Good, Unbiased, and Empirical). These Labs are all still in business, but only Lab 0004 has been able to achieve a reasonable volume of testing.
Labs 0001, 0006, 0011, and 0013 were the ones that did not have sufficient data during the June/July/August 2015 period against which I conducted my assessment of Friendliness. Lab 0011 is no longer in business in Washington.
Labs with numbers >= 0015 commenced operations in Washington after I finished my assessment of Lab Friendliness. I will refer to these labs as “New” today (all except for lab 0015 — they appear to be special and to merit their own segment).
For those wishing to better understand the LCB terms used to describe the Labs, the official current list of labs is found at the following link:
(I let the Labs know last year who was whom in my Lab A through Lab N blinded labelling)
Since the LCB does not seem willing to improve or capable of improving the situation, perhaps the market can. Go buy your Friendly-tested 35%-“Passed all QA Tests” product if you wish. Do what you wish. I only hope that you begin asking the question “What Lab tested this product?” before plopping your cash down on the Retail Counter the next time you go shopping.
Remember that the blame here lies primarily with (some of) the labs and with the WSLCB.
Farmers hold the least blame… they are, in many instances, in somewhat desperate situations and have a need to sell their product at prices beyond what large portions of the Access Points seem to be willing to pay. Friendly lab results enable such transactions.
I blame consumers a bit more, given their ignorant willingness to accept bullshit labelling (even the stuff containing the Red-Hot Masturbatory Hand of Cannabis Poisonousness) and their apparent desire for the almost-attainable 101% THC bud.
I blame Retailers even more (not at the level of labs and incompetent and/or uncaring Regulators), as they are not –on average—doing a particularly good job of educating their consumers (“This is the best stuff … it’s got 38% THC and makes you feel Dreamy-good”).
I blame some Retailers, as well, in that they are setting a pricing / product-flow dynamic that has resulted in the Friendly labs (and lab 0015) dominating the lab testing market in this State. They have set the stage where it is difficult for a lab to survive and almost impossible for a lab to thrive while at the same time reporting honest, proficient, accurate results to the State.
Hmmmm. I wonder if there is any variability in the percentage of product carried by different Retailers that has been tested by the Friendlies and/or by lab 0015? I’m thinking that it might be nice for the populace to know such things if they exist.
Maybe I’ll do something along that line, now that I’ve got all the potency stuff tied in with all of the wholesale and retail pricing stuff and product movement stuff and all that.
Then again, maybe I’ll get distracted by one of the many nice, comforting, beautiful, good things that surround us — or maybe one of those things that pays me cash money.
Frankly, I’m getting a bit tired of playing in the over-flowing cesspool of Washington’s lab-testing marketplace (and the pay for doing so sucks … it’s definitely net negative … even more so as I begin to show negative stuff that relates to existing and/or potential customers)
Have a good day, and if you feel you absolutely must purchase Cannabis from this dysfunctional market, at least please be an informed and intelligent shopper.
Peace, Love, and safer Dope.